Sexual Assault & the NFL: When Will We Stop Defending Our Athletes?
NFL player William Gay recently opened up about his personal experience with domestic violence in the hopes of helping others. Gay, a cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was only 8 years old when his stepfather murdered his mother before killing himself.
Gay decided to go public with his story after visiting the Women’s Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh during Thanksgiving, and even agreed to do a public service announcement, which you can watch here.
His teammate, Ben Roethlisberger, is a man who has been accused of sexual assault. TWICE.
In 2009, David Meggett was found guilty of raping a 21 year old woman and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. In 2010, Giants player and two-time Super Bowl Champ Lawrence Taylor was accused of raping a 16 year old prostitute and pled guilty to the charges. Former Denver Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith was accused of domestic violence, assault, and battery against the mother of his two children. Brett Farve made the news this year while engaging in alleged sexually harassing activities via text messages. And the list goes on.
I’m curious why more men like William Gay don’t stand up against crimes against women, and organizations like the NFL and its fans don’t take a stronger stand against accusations like those against Roethlisberger. Interestingly enough, a recent article by Morning Gloria titled “Sexual Assault and the Super Bowl”, explores why, despite numerous allegations of sexual assault and violence against women, we continue to place NFL athletes on a pedestal and deem them worthy of our praise.
To be fair, one of the charges against Roethlisberger was dropped but that’s not necessarily the point I’m trying to make. Regardless of whether or not the case made it to court, why are we so quick to defend these athletes? Why is it our first reaction to assume that the victim isn’t a victim at all?
We’ve all seen it time and again- sport fans defending their heroes by slandering the victim and questioning her motives, claiming that the girl is just after attention, fame, and money. But is that the type of attention a woman would welcome into in her life?
It is exactly this kind of treatment that continues to prevent victims of violence from stepping forward. Imagine having to defend yourself every single day. Imagine recalling every last detail of the most traumatic experience of your life. Imagine having to answer the same questions over and over again, to the point of exhaustion. These women don’t have to imagine it… they had to live it.
Morning Gloria states it best: “Until America’s justice system is perfect in resolving sexual assault allegations, until the NFL takes rape accusations more seriously, until wealthy and powerful athletes aren’t given a free pass to treat women any way they wish, we have to assume that at least some of the women who accuse NFL players of sexual assault are telling the truth.”
In an industry riddled with accusations of sexual assault, William Gay deserves to be commended for his bravery on taking a stance against violence against women. He successfully turned his life around and is now using his stance as a celebrity to mentor young people and show them that they don’t have to feel alone.
I only hope that several of his teammates, other players around the league, NFL leadership and its fans will some day follow his example, and send the message to women that they don’t condone this kind of behavior from their “heroes”.